Amman. Part 2: شو – The Question Which Doesn’t Need an Answer [EN]

25 Oct

‘What do you want to listen to?’
‘Him? There’s only one person who might be called that way. Is it Him?’
‘Yes, it’s Him.’

I am afraid to say anything else in order not to offend my friend again. For example, because I’ll exchange a conversation about Bob Marley quotes correspond to the life of contemporary Jordanian peasants or a discussion about creating an online codex of Jordanian anarchists for a walk in the night with the dogs.  So we agreed: as of now, the only way I can be forgiven is – if I bring Bob Dylan to Amman. I hope by now that the old man won’t live long enough for me to have to apologise that way.

The day before my first departure, everybody’s favourite Englishman, a student at Cambridge, whose 21-year-old sister was supposed to visit him in Amman, said that “he would he bring her into this house”. I noted that I would also advise against ‘bringing a young girl into ‘this house’.” And that was all. Was that just an innocent joke? Maybe.

Besides the visual slowness and the Bedouin rhythm, hospitality can change into indifference as fast as lightning.

For this story to be at least a little bit romantic, I would understand it better. Not even the old Tunisian rock-star Ridha Diki, whom I was so enchanted by, could trust to the absence of any other motives. Certainly, I was looking for him also because after a two-hour interview in French, I wanted to clarify: “M’sieur Ridha, I never do this, but I have a personal request. Could you sign a postcard for my friend from Jordan? He is a big fan of  you. You know, I have never done such a thing, but it isn’t difficult for me to ask it, nor for you to sign, and he’ll be happy.” Ridha Diki did not sign the postcard – but he dedicated two days to writing two CDs in his own hand – one for me and one for my friend, and he drew several sketches. Moreover, for my friend he brought a book by a famous Tunisian poet and wrote a foreword, having ordered for me the words.

Five seconds – that’s how long my friend took to read the foreword. I am at home again, in this part of the house as well.

Surrendered by the Hills

– “Bader, sometimes I’m scared to be here. If I add it all up, I have spent just a few weeks in Amman, but it seems to me that I know everyone, and everything about each of you. The day before yesterday, somehow a musician whom I didn’t know until then, who plays the oud, told me that you had finished law studies, and on the day you received your diploma, you brought it to your father and gave it to him with the words, ‘And now I am going to be a sculptor.’ I understand that you’re known here but why I should know it? I did not ask. Why do I always meet people who know everyone, and tell me everything?”
– ‘This city is small and here everyone really knows everyone else.”
– “No, this isn’t just a small town. Here there is no privacy, here you cannot hide. I can’t do this. How do you live here?
– “I fought for my privacy. I argued for my studio not to become a building where anyone could come in at any time. I am happy to see people, but I ask them to call me in advance; and when I was busy, I said, ‘I can’t’. Here, that much is unusual.”

It’s better to meet Bader by chance at two in the morning, near the Lebanese pizza kiosk, so that later, at his invitation, you could go to the studio and slowly talk about the structure of stone, about how working with marble is different from working with granite; about how Stanley Kubrick did not shoot the moon landing, but rather a mockumentary; to go on with the discussion whether the Aramaic language developed in parallel with Arabic, or was its ancestor; whether in Saudi Arabia there is a monument similar to Petra in Jordan, but because it is a ‘pre-Islamic relic’, it is forbidden both to locals and foreigners, until some archaeologists with permits put up a video on YouTube; to talk about the smell of bacteria which are awakened by the first rain of autumn; and finish with common concern that Jabal Al-Lwebdeh will resemble Jabal Amman with its bars, cafés and signs in English, which there were not so many of, only half a year ago.

Sometimes it is necessary to meet a Jordanian sculptor to figure out together why showing musical instruments on Iranian television is forbidden, which the first violin of the Tehran symphony orchestra failed to explain. Bader guesses, the people gave their instruments the form of the female body, and playing music so richly resembles making love.

It’s not always comfortable for me in that café where you could choose what music to play, and write your own graffiti, the best of which were made by Urwa. I didn’t feel comfortable when I hid myself in the corner, and did not get up at the right time to welcome someone, I somehow seemed to be spying after acquaintances who had still not noticed me. The same as when during the conversations, not understanding Arabic, I snatch at all those names I hear, and I must confess – I often feel as if I know these people. And I don’t want to eavesdrop, especially when someone’s name was mentioned comes through the door, and I have to give him a big hug, because I haven’t been in the house for four days – not on any floor – and talk about the inaccessible Jenin and the fighters of the Free Syrian Army. I have already been in this place for two hours, and haven’t yet greeted him, because I still haven’t managed to get inside, because I stuck seeing some other acquaintances on the terrace. 20121025-165426.jpg
You’re leaving Jordan already tomorrow morning? Pity.”
“Yes, I am leaving. At least I was lucky that Tareq’s concert is today and not tomorrow.”
“Who did you come with?”
“With him.”

“With him? With Amer?!! And how do you know him?”
“I wrote you that I am making this series of portraits of Arab rappers.”
“So immediately after the interview, we came here. I must say goodbye to Tareq before I leave.”
“Ah… Then have a nice evening”

Here everyone knows everything about each other, and during another accidental meeting I should again and again explain that “H. has completed shooting and gone to Jerusalem, so his room is free, and I stayed there.” I stopped to be surprised by the observation: “I saw you in ‘Graffìti” with Ala’a.” Who the heck is Ala’a?!

I have heard a story about a Mossad agent who had been working in Europe and arrived in Amman. He assassinated his target on the street, and as a good professional should, he carried on as if nothing had happened. They caught up with him in a few seconds – the whole street. He was wrong when he believed that the people all around were not looking in his direction. In Amman everyone sees everything. But just as long as there is no need to, they pretend they are not paying attention.

“Our hospitality is sincere; we welcome guests, but don’t think that we trust everyone. We’re always waiting for something, and we’re always afraid of something. Do you think I decided to meet with you just like that? When you called, I called Tareq and asked him whether he had really sent this girl from Ukraine to me, and I asked what he thinks about you. You know how many journalists come to us and make reports about ‘the Arab youth’. In fact they aren’t interested in anything. You’re the first one to actually ask a question about music.”

Precisely because everyone knows everything, it is so easy to destroy everything here. If you have made a mistake, everyone will hear about it. Writing about them is another matter, too. The main thing in any case is not to embellish and decorate either the reality or the people. They know who is who. Anything else will just look like flattery.

Sometimes I am disgusted when they return home at 5pm, run off to some exhibition and workshop, have their first coffee there, and give a video interview to some more acquaintances because they are artists, not the most famous ones, but still artists. I want to escape from this hypocrisy. But then 10 hours later I will pardon them all again, blaming myself for jumping to conclusions:

“You know, Nataliya, this exhibition was disgusting. I felt so bad there. They brought some kids from rich Western Amman, and also from Palestinian refugee camps, so that they could somehow make figures out of newspapers together, and then tell a story. There was no social cohesion there. It was disgusting: rich moms trying to prove that their children were the best. The little ones from the camp felt excluded from the place … I hated myself and everything I said there. It seems that later, I couldn’t resist telling it like it is.”


The true colour of the desert

-“You’re the smartest in this city, Tell me, what’s this all about? Why is it so special? Why does it bind me here so strongly?”
-“There is nothing special at all. It is just a desert, and in the desert you cannot hide yourself or anything else. That’s all. The desert is mean, but real, like life, and life here is hard and ugly – there is no water, nor money, so people have to be tough.  You should be fucked up in this city to understand it. But that’s what life is all about. Here people despise naiveté. If they want to exploit you – forget about politeness, be tough. You understand, this city doesn’t give itself up to anyone. It doesn’t distract your attention with the nightlife of Beirut, the waves of the Bosphorus, the chaos of Cairo. Here everything is real as life is. Sometimes boring, sometimes there is nothing to do, sometimes everything revolves around unnecessary things, but such is life without embellishment, with all its ugliness. There is no place for any hope that life will be better, that colours will appear in the desert. Everything will be as it is – grey, gritty, tough, scorching, faded – but genuine. Do you understand?”
-“Yes. Finally.

 There are no rose-coloured glasses, but nor is there any strain. Plenty of sincerity, but also quite enough of lies. All balanced and very real. It is a place for discord and friendship, for love and many betrayals. Yet there is no shortage of drama.

“Let’s go to Somalia…”
“I don’t want to go with you. I’ll go on my own.”
“Of course, on your own. And before that, I have to go there and check everything

His great-grandfather came from Somalia to visit the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and stayed. His great-grandmother came from Nigeria to perform the hajj and remained. In 1948 the family had to flee to Jordan. He is a Palestinian, deprived by all accounts of all three of his ancestral homes – Somalia, Nigeria and Palestine. Or does he still perhaps have all three?

“Last time you said that you were about to stay away from here, to go to Zarqa, to be alone, to finally write the script of your film.”
” I will write it. The main thing is to start, but it is so hard.”

“It takes you two hours to go home. Why don’t you move out of your monstrous concrete suburb here, to live with the guys?”
“I live with my mother and sister, and I’m the only man…But understand me, I love being with them.”

“Come on, we’re going to help tidy the house and knock the door into the garden. His father just died. He was wealthy, but his stepmother took away absolutely everything. At least she was forced to give at least the house to the guys.”
“What does that mean “she was forced?”
“That would be too much. We just wouldn’t allow her. The people around her wouldn’t allow it.”

She was 9 years old and come home in tears because this Israeli soldier says that the road to the school is closed. Do whatever you want with me but I don’t know how to explain to my little sister why she cannot go to school.”

These are just little things, compared to the everyday life of the boys from Jenin. Still here the reality of life lies in being denied a Canadian visa, despite being invited to the festival in Toronto for the première of own movie. The reality is in impossibility to go anywhere with a Palestinian passport, which must be renewed every five years. These are given to those people whose families moved to Jordan not in 1948, but after 1967 the Six Day War.

“I hate this music, it makes me sick”: ‘I went to all the doctors in the world, but no-one knows what disease I have. And aside from that, it is fatal.’ This is underground music from the 60s, the music of the refugee camps. ‘This book has thousands of pages, but it doesn’t end because the tears don’t stop, with which I am writing this book of my life.'”

At the Kyiv première of ‘The Whores’ Glory’, the Austrian filmmaker Michael Glawogger was asked why his documentary triptych was so long. Glawogger explained that all this time is needed to dive into the atmosphere, because real life is not as fast as it is on the screen. I could shorten this text by leaving out several dialogues.

The meaning of my stay there is to stop, slow down, immerse myself in the tough, bitter-sweet ordinariness of this city and these people, to feel their slow pace – tying the laces on our faded yellow-green sneakers; searching for chains for the dogs; and before that, spending half an hour looking for two clean cups to make tea with mint.

I understand my own mistakes: in the desert you should move without rush, step by step. If you make sudden movements, if you try to run, to jump, to get everything at once, then it is very easy to get stuck in the sand. One of my rules, or rather habits, is – do something, at least. But these people know how to live so as not to pretend to work, not waste time and effort on unnecessary things. When you can avoid doing something – don’t do it. Their existence is something like that of a carefree teenager: you do not know what will happen tomorrow, unless your older sister comes and takes you to your parents for dinner; you swing on a swing in a nearby park at four in the morning, and then you talk about shooting a video, as the area under the hill is draped with orange tarpaulins, changing it into an all-day market. 20121025-165630.jpg

We are aged between 25 and 35. Yet we are not ashamed to talk like teenagers, for example, about the sense of life, and that such thing as love is overestimated. And that such things as human love is underestimated.

A friend of mine, a German who lived in Jordan for 5 years, was recently sent back to Munich, where he visited his parents. He is an environmentalist, but since March he has been organising aid for Syrian refugees. So far I haven’t heard that somebody was sent back from Jordan. Has something changed? Have the omnipotent muhabarat finally woken up? Would they ley me back the next time? I was already asked on the border if I were a journalist and if I had been to the Syrian refugee camp.

When I returned from the Syrian refugees, nobody was in the house, because everyone had gone to the demonstration. Several activists demanding democratic reforms had been arrested. Earlier a bill on Internet censorship was passed, which requires registration on absolutely all web pages, and entitles the ministry to ban any webpage.

“Listen, that was a strange protest. We got a bad feeling there, as if something could really have started right there.”
“What and when?”
“We don’t know, but you have to stay. In a few months, something could really happen.”
“What could happen?”
“Perhaps we’re exaggerating, but Amman isn’t Jordan. Every Jordanian family is armed. You simply can’t imagine how many weapons are held by both old and young people. And most residents of Amman aren’t armed. There are many people here who believe that activists are targeting the King. What’s more, these people with guns don’t like the Ammanies, and they like Palestinians even less, who are 60 percent of the people here.”

” I understand very well that our conversation sounds childish. We are adult children, who will never grow up. Still, for the first time, I was scared. So I absorb these faces, eyes, lips, gestures, in order to permanently preserve this calmness. I have often come across this phrase in reports about journalists and conflicts, that they had spent their time in those cities ‘which they loved so much and where they had many friends’.

No, not Amman! Anywhere else, but not here. Nobody has the right to destroy my city and my peace.

” I am leaving in few hours and this time, I really do not know when I’ll come back.”
“You always say that, and then you come back.”

20121025-164515.jpg P.S. شو – What? [shooe’ ] in Arabic

Great thanks to Jim Todd for an incredible effort to translate my haphazard writing</em


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